“Wow, so you’re finally going to the Himalayas; that’s amazing! You must be thrilled!”

style="text-align: justify;">“Of course I am!”

“So, you’re all set?”

“Yes, leaves applied, bags packed, motorcycle en route to Delhi; everything is set!”

“Oh, awesome! So, how many of your group members are riding with you?”

“Uhh, it’s just me.”

“What? Are you crazy? Why are you going alone?”

I had had this conversation with almost all my friends before heading to the Himalayas. Honestly, I didn’t have an answer to those questions either at that moment, but now I can safely say that I do.

A few friends of mine and I had been planning to go to Leh for almost two years, but it never happened due to problems in scheduling. After tiring of all the plans not working out over and over again, one fine day, I packed my bags and decided to do the trip on my own. There was nothing planned, really. I just knew I had to ride North.

I began my trip from Delhi. It seemed like the perfect place to start because of its proximity to the mountains and the logistical convenience, in terms of accommodation and bike transport, as a friend of mine lived there. After all the final repairs and preparations, I left Delhi with a heart full of courage and head full of thoughts. I was excited and anxious at the same time. Although I had done quite a few motorcycle trips across India earlier, it was my first time in the Himalayan terrain. I was looking forward to an entirely new experience. Adding to that, riding solo here came with a little fear and anxiety simply because I wasn’t sure what to expect from the high-mountain roads.

Ready for a trip across mountains
Ready for a trip across mountains
Tanveer Taj

The Ride

For someone who has ridden across several parts of the Indian midland, the Delhi-Chandigarh highway didn’t present any interesting sights to me. I covered the stretch in no time, stopping only thrice for water and food. It’s a good idea to take a few breaks for hydration and food on any biking trip; biking as an activity tends to consume a lot of your physical energy although it doesn’t seem like it, so it is essential for you to have just enough food and water each time in order to stay hydrated through your journey.

Once I passed Chandigarh, I truly began to enjoy the ride. I had heard a lot about the Himalayan Expressway and it did not disappoint. It was my first encounter with ‘real’ mountains, after all. The three-hour long journey through the foothills of the Himalayas (the Shivalik Range) was an apt precursor to the mightier mountains I would get to witness later on in my trip. The low mountains covered with pine trees would eventually give way to higher and more barren mountains and, of course, snow. I couldn’t wait for snow.

I passed through some villages in the Solan district before reaching Shimla, where I decided to stop for the night. I met a few friends there who were attending a wedding. After catching up with them, I decided to head to bed early. My first day of riding deserved a good night’s sleep. The next day was spent exploring Shimla. The summer capital of the esrtwhile British Raj and capital of one of India’s most beautiful states (Himachal Pradesh) is dotted with several interesting Colonial-era structures. I walked around the Mall area and explored other parts and the culture of this city on the hills.

After a day’s rest, I was on the road again – this time from Shimla to Manali. The mountains began to get loftier and the scenic landscape made for an amazing ride; however my motorcycle was starting to give troubles. I knew something was off but I didn’t know what. This was when I had my first motorcycle breakdown, a few kilometres before Manali. I did whatever quick fixes I knew and somehow managed to get my bike till Old Manali. Everything was shut by the time I reached. After talking to a few locals, I found an old repair shop and managed to convince the mechanic to open the workshop and fix my motorcycle because I had to set off to explore the rest of the mountains the very next day. The mechanic was extremely nice and decided to help me. I spent the next few hours with him at his workshop, learning about my motorcycle and the nasty terrains that were going to come my way in the days to come.

Happy and exhausted, I found a quaint café later at night and decided to crash there. I spent the whole of the next day exploring Manali – its rivers, markets, forests and cafes, all of which I had only seen romanticised in Bollywood films earlier.

A selfie on an empty road in the freezing cold
A selfie on an empty road in the freezing cold

The next leg of my journey was the real reason behind my decision to take this trip against all odds – the mighty snow-capped Himalayas. Although I was riding solo, up until then, I had not felt lonely because all the areas I had travelled through were filled with people. But right after the Koksar checkpost, the number of people began reducing and it finally hit me that I was taking on the mystery of the mountains and the treacherous terrain all by myself.

But the breathtaking scenery made me forget all my worries. Everything around looked like it was straight out of a painting. I had to tell myself over and over again not to keep stopping as I had to cover a good distance. But I just couldn’t help myself, and ended up taking a lot of pictures. To be honest, I was also extremely scared that my engine would give up any moment because of the low oxygen levels and the cold weather, so whenever I had stopped to let the beauty of the place sink in, I made sure I kept the motorcycle running, and never shut my ignition.

Travelling solo can be exhilarating and humbling at the same time. When you find yourself in the middle of the Lahaul Valley, with no civilisation for miles at end, no human contact, no network, you are alone with your thoughts. And trust me, it’s not a bad thing – the long, deep silences involuntarily get filled by the voices in your head that are there only for you to hear, loud and clear.

But sometimes you do feel like sharing the beautiful view with someone and sometimes you really need someone to pinch your arm to reassure you that you are not dreaming, after all. It takes a while for your eyes to take in something so majestic and grand. It takes a while for the brain to process what you are seeing – clouds so close, sky so blue, silence so loud, breeze so tangible and air so pure. Suddenly all the risk and the effort to take the trip will seem worth it.

So, getting back to the question that I started with, I still don’t know why I did a trip on my own, but I do realise now that sometimes, we need some time off from everything and everyone we know to truly value them. Now, thanks to the mesmerising mountains, I’m grateful for the roof I have over my head, the food I have to eat and the fact that I’m alive – healthy and living my dream.

The Himalayan Roads

I hadn’t ever experienced riding on such roads before – the slopes on the Himalayan roads were steeper than what I was used to, the curves were slippery (unlike in the Western or Eastern ghats) and there was actually no road at times. It was just mud, slush, gravel and broken tar.

The journey ahead of Lahaul was pretty much the same – terrible roads surrounded by sights that your eyes find hard to believe. After spending two more beautiful days in Jispa and Sarchu, I had to say goodbye to the mountains. I turned around and made my way back to Delhi with a sense of achievement and a wide smile that my helmet was hiding.

Get your motorcycle a safety check
Get your motorcycle a safety check

Things To Remember

  • Chalk out a plan, but not a rigid one
  • Pack light so there’s more room to collect local souvenirs, etc.
  • Carry music!
  • Make new friends but keep a look out for troublemakers
  • Carry cash at different places
  • Announce your whereabouts to friends and family
  • Talk to the locals
  • Carry spare keys… always!
  • Check your motorcycle for signs of trouble

Where to Stay & Eat

In Shimla

Woodville Palace (Tel: 0177-2624038, 2623919, Cell: 092185-52832, 09218511758; Tariff: ₹5,000–12,000) is a heritage option. Hotel Springfields (Tel: 2621297-98, Cell: 09816087611, 09816496117; Tariff: ₹4,800–11,500) is lovely option in Chhota Shimla. Hotel White (Tel: 2656136, Cell: 09816076422; Tariff: ₹1,800–4,500) is a decent option, with lovely views. Next to this is Hotel Diplomat (Tel: 2652001, Cell: 09805200091; Tariff: ₹1,000–3,300).

Most eating places in Shimla are on or just off The Mall. Himachal Tourism’s Ashiana Restaurant, right on the The Ridge, and Alfa on Scandal Point are popular. Baljees is a famous place to eat. Café Sol has delicious European style food.

In Jispa

Just at the edge of the River Bhaga is a small PWD Guest House (Tel: 01900-222276; Tariff: ₹450) where the river is shallow, allowing for a good catch of trout. Hotel Ibex Jispa (Manali Tel: 01902-253180, Cell: 09816036860; Tariff: ₹3,200, with meals) is the best option here with river-facing rooms. Padma Lodge (Cell: 09418911164; Tariff: ₹3,750–5,500, with meals) is another good option. It offers 19 rooms and 10 Swiss tents.

In Sarchu

Located at a height of 14,501ft, Sarchu is a high camp bereft of any habitation except for the tented retreats that are to be found to the in peak tourist season. It’s also a place where acclimatisation blues hit many a traveller. Adventure Camp (Manali Tel: 01902-250083, Cell: 09816056115, 09816022839; Tariff: ₹3,200–3,500, with meals) is well located and ideal for going on some lovely walks on the flat plains or for off-roading. Other options include the Mulkila Adventures (Cell: 09805051682, 09418051682; Tariff: ₹4,200, with meals) and Antrek Camp (Manali Tel: 252292, 254492, Cell: 09816022292; Tariff: ₹1,500 per person, with meals).

Getting There

To Manali

Air Nearest airport: Bhuntar (50km/ 1.5hrs), serviced by Indian Airlines and Jagson Airlines. Arrange a pick-up at Taxi Operators Union, The Mall, Manali (Tel: 01902-252450, 252120). Costs around ₹1,500

Rail Nearest railhead: Chandigarh is serviced by the Shatabdi from Delhi. Taxi (7–8hrs) costs around ₹4,000 to Manali

Road It’s 565km from Delhi and takes about 14hrs, but you might prefer a night halt en route if you wish to start your ride from Manali. Bus An HPTDC Volvo AC bus leaves Delhi’s ISBT Kashmere Gate at 7.00pm, reaching Manali by 9.30am. The last bus leaves at 9pm. Fare is about ₹1300